Skip to main content

Soul Food East Coast Style

Chef Collin Stone shares how Black history and culinary traditions can feed everyone’s soul

By |

Photos by Bruce Murray/VisionFire

Recipes Featured In This Article

Collard greens

Yields 4 servings I have tremendous affection for this dish, one of my mother’s favo...

As I began to write this article, I was torn between focusing on the cuisine of African Atlantic Canadians and our history (in Nova Scotia and New Brunswick—there were no early Black communities in P.E.I. or Newfoundland and Labrador). I understand that both are intertwined, but the soul food that I showcase is not exclusive to the region and I don’t want my article to turn into just a history lesson with food scattered intermittently. 

I’ve cooked from Newfoundland to Tofino. I’ve had the good fortune to have cooked for a prime minister and represented my province and its hospitality and tourism industry abroad on several occasions in my 30-year career.

I’m the product of Jamaican immigrants who came to Nova Scotia in 1964, both bringing their recipes, roots, and culture, all of which passed along to my siblings and me, and then our families. I’ve had the opportunity to show how communal some soul food recipes are.

The term “soul food” is said to have originated from the cuisine developed by the African slaves, mainly (but not exclusively) from the American South. It’s said to have resulted from the meager ingredients available to slaves and sharecroppers. The least desirable cuts of meat and vegetables, some actually being weeds. The slaves had to try and fashion some sort of meal to feed their families: the products of these meager offerings evolved into a hearty, delicious, simple cuisine.

Chef Stone’s Jamaican roots flavour his love of cooking traditional dishes like oxtail stew—a recipe that made its way north as comfort food for generations.

When I mentioned not exclusively to the American South, Jamaica also had a history of African slaves working plantations for sugarcane and other cash crops. They had their recipes but the African slaves in Jamaica used different spices, chilies, peppers, to help mask the smell and taste of meat, provided by their oppressors when well past its prime. “Jerk” is the most popular example of this technique, featuring dry rubbed seasoning made with allspice and scotch peppers, applied on wet marinated proteins, then smoked or barbecued. Both spices are plentiful and growing wild in Jamaica.

A brief timeline of Blacks in Canada tells more about our
culinary roots. 

• 1605: First Blacks arrive in Port Royal, Nova Scotia.

• Early 1700s: French and English Black settlers arrive in
East Coast colonial settlements.

• 1782–85: The American Revolution leads to 3,500 Black Loyalists settling in Nova Scotia—Annapolis Royal, Clements, Granville, Birchtown, Little Tracadie, and Chebucto.

• 1796: 600 Jamaican “Maroons” are displaced, settling in Nova Scotia’s Preston Township.

• 1812–16: The War of 1812 between the U.K. and U.S. leads 2,000 Black refugees to seek freedom in Nova Scotia.

• 1900s: Hundreds of Caribbean immigrants arrive in Nova Scotia to work the steel mills of Cape Breton.

Some 400 years of passed-down recipes, culture, traditions have contributed to the food stylings and techniques that have been the foundation of African Canadian soul food. Growing up in Nova Scotia, I’ve seen so many changes regarding food and accessibility to ethnic products. Produce, proteins, and spices from around the world are
now available. 

It wasn’t that way when I was younger. I remember driving to Oulton’s farm as a family to buy goat meat from them, whole goats. I remember Mr. Oulton watching my mother clean the tripe as she did as a young girl. We even made a soup using the brain (called Mannish Water or Jamaican Viagra). Mr. Oulton would give us oxtail and cow feet for free, as no one else wanted the cuts. Those slaves of long ago ate such discarded meats regularly.

As African slaves in Jamaica used jerk as a method of flavouring and preserving meats, Atlantic Canadian Blacks had to depend on smoking, salting, and pickling meats and dehydrating fruits and berries, even learning how to forage and dry seaweed to make dulse.

We’ve just scratched the surface of the history of soul food, one of the hottest culinary trends currently, elevating once “cheap” or undesirable cuts of meat and lesser-used seafood and vegetables and showcasing these foods and techniques. Read on for some essential recipes and pay culinary homage to the African slaves that ate this way to survive.

Collin Stone

East Coast Living